Commercial & Advertising Photographer Francesco Zerilli
Interview with professionals series
Francesco Zerilli is a professional Still Life Photographer who works in Commercial & Advertising Photography for assignment. Specialize in Jewelry Photography and Watch Photography.
Francesco Zerilli is an award winning, professionally trained photographer who shoots a wide range of advertising & commercial photography for assignment, stock photography and his own brand of personal work. Specialize in Jewelry Photography and Watch Photography.
Originally from Italy, he works most of the year from a gorgeous brand new studio in Royal Oak, Michigan or on assignment in New York or Europe. Francesco Zerilli has been published in all major international magazine, working with Advertising Agency in the U.S. and Europe, for Fortune 500 companies.
Francesco, please tell about your background a bit. Since what time photography became your passion?
I first discovered I wanted to become a photographer, I was eight years old. At the time, I had seen an ad for a photography school. I was so interested I had filled an application and mail it back. Within three weeks, two men showed up to my house to sign me up for the photography school, but after realizing I was just a kid they told me to reapply after I’m finished with high school. After that experience I began reading everything I could about photography. I was able to buy my first camera at 16 years old, an Olympus OM 1. I went on to attend the University of Bologna to receive a BA in Communication Science in my early twenties.
How did you start to operate your own studio? Was that the result of your personal skills and success as a photographer or there are some other reasons?
After I built up my portfolio with assignments and personal work, I began working in Palermo, Italy, with major AD Agencies. I initially used available spaces, empty office rooms at the agency, and spaces that clients had provided. Later, had I opened my first studio within a very large basement of a residential building in Via Gaetano Daita in the city center of Palermo, Italy.
You specialize not only in product photography, but also in fashion. Do you represent yourself as an expert in both fields?
I never understood photographers’ labels. It might not be the right place to discuss this, but maybe it will create more ideas for discussion. If you shoot a bottle of wine, an iPhone, or a book you’re a product photographer, but if you shoot a scarf, or jewelry or a stiletto you are a fashion photographer? I think the difference is in style or taste, and if the photographer is able to make the image sexy or attractive enough to be called fashion photography. When the photographer doesn’t have style or taste, he or she simply hires a fashion stylist to style the photo shoot for them. Taste is something you’re born with, but style can be learned.
Photography to me is art, you can be an expert in some photographic technics, but you can’t be an art expert. By developing your style over the years as well as being persistent and consistent, you will be rewarded with returning clients. And how you measure success is having returning clients.
What are main difficulties when you manage a studio and people?
I’m a freelance photographer. Creative Directors, Art Buyers and,Marketing Directors can hire me anytime they think I can help with any of their projects. I set up my studio with the same approach. Whenever work on a new project, I look at the project briefing and decide who will be the right professionals to work with me on this project and book them. I can’t have them on staff for an eventual job to come in. The studio is just an empty box that get filled in only when we are producing for our clients.
Now you can offer a lot of services: photography, graphic and web design, creative direction, consultancy and many others. How many people work in your team? Does your crew do all types of services or you put some works outsource
The same works with the other services we have available, we are casting a team of professionals only when we know exactly what the job entails. By working this way, we can hire the right talent for the right job.
Do you prefer to work with clients who already know you or you’re trying to expand clientele base?
There are periods when I’m very busy and have to handle many jobs. Sometimes I may even need to turndown jobs to be able to maintain our level of quality. Other periods there is not enough work and I regret letting certain jobs go. However, it is better to mold your clientele depending on the professional direction you want to go.
How do you conquer client’s trust?
Client’s trust can be won by showing them your commitment to organization and transparency by telling them exactly how their merchandise is treated once it’s in your facility. As well as making their merchandise look top grade. When they see the final work, they really feel that they are taking care of.
Please tell about negotiation with client. How do you prefer to work with people and find a right approach?
Negotiation is a hard part of this business, if not of life itself. We’re negotiating always. I’m not sure if I’m right on these part, but at least I’m comfortable right now. I don’t want to be the most expensive guy, but I don’t want to give my work as a gift either. From the beginning I start telling my clients that we have two spots to cover, the production expenses and the fees for every single person involved in the process. It’s hard to stick to a budget, specially if the brands that come after your work aren’t completely developed on their markets. But at the end of the day clients must be down to earth when we translate the production we can make with the money they have. We also have to optimize some functions to be competitive as well.
Do you evaluate yourself as an artist or more as entrepreneur? Where’s right balance between two extremes?
I think the reason a number of artists have agents, is because they have bad/poor money management skills. Sometimes we artists get so excited about a new project, that we are willing to do it for free. So having an agent or a partner to handle the money is very beneficial. I, personally, would rather have someone to do the managerial part it for me, so I can concentrate on the creative work.
Do you have a vision where you will be let’s say in 10 years? Will new technologies destroy habitual approach on the photography market?
Of course. I have gone through three majors changes in technology during my career as a photographer. The first one was adapting to computers and using Photoshop. The second was using Internet. The third was using digital cameras. And I’m actually still transitioning into a fourth change which is CGI. I have been able to survive the first three changes in technology by embracing it and staying ahead of the curve. If the clients ask for it specifically and you are not offering it, you’re already too late.
What would you suggest to beginner photographers? Was there a turning point in your career when you felt yourself successful?
Becoming a professional photographer today is harder than it was 10 or 20 years ago, but if you a have the passion and talent you will have the chance to make it as photographer. The hardest part will be deciding on what type of professional photography suits you. Performing in Advertising or Fashion Photography is much more difficult than Wedding Photography, or High School Senior’s Photography.
Advice, I usually give young photographers are: do not follow fads and crowds. An art director once told me I would be out of business soon (in his terms “dead”), if I didn’t offer a technic called Hose Master. The technic consisted of a few fiber optics hoses with different nozzles and a central unit to distribute the power, costing upwards of $25,000. I knew then that it was just a fad, because the look coming from the photography appeared exactly the same from one photographer to the next. The Hose Master was just a style, a style only a few photographers should use, but it’s not for everyone. In present day a fully equipped Hose Master on eBay will set you back only $500.
Anyway don’t follow the crowd, develop your own style, invent new techniques, and between assignments do not stay still, come up with series or portfolios of images that are unique and original. The portfolio of images you create on your own are your personal work, so you cannot screw up. It will prep you to think differently and will surprise you how much it will help your career, since creative directors are always on the lookout for new visions. I feel successful every time a get a new assignment from my personal work.